NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- If there's one dangerous place to be in the financial world, it's between a bank and its fees. After all, banks make $30 billion annually on checking account fees alone.
But that's exactly where you should be: taking a stand on onerous bank fees on services that are either overrated or that you don't need at all.
That's the outlook from Take Charge America, a Phoenix, Ariz., nonprofit credit counseling and debt management agency that says there are plenty of bank fees you really shouldn't be paying, but it's hard for the average consumer to figure out exactly which can be avoided with no repercussions.
"In many cases, people don't realize how much they're paying out, as the charges are automatically deducted from checking accounts or tacked onto credit card statements," says Mike Sullivan, chief education officer at the nonprofit. "It can seriously add up from month to month, year to year."
Also see: Bank Customers Could Try Harder to Avoid Fees
What fees can you bypass and ignore? Sullivan has a pretty good checklist:
Checking account fees.
Most banks offer free accounts with no fees; they just don't broadcast their availability on a regular basis. Try an online bank or community bank first -- they're your best bets for free checking accounts, Sullivan says.
Low balance fees.
Banks love to charge customers if checking or savings accounts fall below a required minimum balance, but will likely waive the fee if you make a fuss. More and more banks are dropping low balance fees altogether.
Sullivan says there is no need to be paying fees on accounts you're not using. If you have an inactive account, close it so you don't wind up being hit with low balance fees.
Also see: We Have Fewest Banks Since 1934, But That's Not Necessarily Bad
Avoiding ATM fees should be a no-brainer. Instead of being charged on out-of-network ATMs, plan ahead and use your own bank's ATM -- or switch to a bank that offers reimbursement fees for ATM usage.
Overdraft fees can be especially painful for consumers, costing between $20 and $36 for each infraction. But Sullivan has a good prescription for that: "Better record-keeping and cash flow management can help consumers avoid these fees and hold onto their hard-earned money," he says.
Sullivan says there is also no need to pay annual fees on credit cards (plenty of card companies don't have annual fees, but you have to look for them). And late credit card payments fees can be eliminated by signing up for account alerts that let you know when a card bill is due.
Saving a few bucks on bank fees is a cathartic experience -- it's a rare chance to pull one over on your bank instead of vice-versa. Start with the list above, and see how much money you can save from the banksters this year.
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